Some myths need to be cleared up about the reported £61 billion “divorce bill” that Brussels hopes to force Britain to pay before its departure. This is not simply political posturing on behalf of the sclerotic EU: it is a very weak opening negotiating move. Whenever the other side opens with a “this is going to hurt” punitive demand for a hugely inflated settlement, lawyers know that the real figure is going to be a great deal less.
Especially when you are dealing with an organisation as corrupt and as unwilling to be forensically investigated as the EU itself. Some reports have suggested that Theresa May will settle with the EU for a fraction of the amount demanded. Maybe for less than £4 billion – about half the annual contribution that Britain currently pays to the EU.
The reason I am confident that the divorce bill will turn out to be more costly and painful for the EU than the UK is that, as with any divorce, the real cost can only be calculated once both sides have seen the all-important financial disclosures. The think tank Civitas says that a hard-hitting series of financial claims against the EU for misappropriation of British funds would soon get the EU to back down from asking for any money at all. It reckons that Brussels owes the UK up to a trillion euros in compensation.
That nothing is owed at all was indeed the conclusion of a House of Lords report into Brexit, just as you don’t owe anything other than your last bar bill if you resign from a club.
A proper British media and legal investigation into the EU’s misuse of UK funds could make the Westminster MPs’ expenses scandal look tame. We already have the best investigative journalists in the world, and the best forensic lawyers trained to probe accounts.
The reason that the EU’s accounts have not been signed off for years is that they are a pit of financial incompetence. The Prime Minister should seize on this to make a series of counter-claims. Whenever I’ve been to Brussels, I’ve been struck by the waste and extravagance. Take the wine list in the swankiest restaurant. I was recently having lunch with William Dartmouth MEP and he showed me how the list – including the very best French wines – was so heavily subsidised that the most expensive bottle was actually a British wine at €49.
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